Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team will play its lone home contest over a 12-game stretch on Wednesday afternoon as the Crusaders welcome former Horizon League foe Milwaukee for a midweek matchup. The game will take place on the University’s annual Valpo Day.
Last Time Out: The Crusaders dropped two of three at Southern Illinois this past weekend in their first road series as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference. After suffering a 6-2 setback in Friday’s opener, the Crusaders flipped the script to beat the Salukis 6-2 on Saturday behind a complete game by starting pitcher Trey Ferketic. Valpo dropped a rubber match for the second straight Sunday, losing 8-0 with seven of Southern Illinois’ eight runs coming in the fifth inning.
On the Air: Wednesday’s game will be broadcast on 95.1 FM Valparaiso and online via the TuneIn Radio app with Ben Ariano calling the play-by-play. Live stats will also be available.
Series Notes: Valpo holds a 32-39 all-time mark against their former Horizon League adversaries. The Crusaders swept all three meetings from the Panthers a year ago, taking both ends of a doubleheader on May 13 at Henry Aaron Field before winning a single game at Emory G. Bauer Field the following week. The two teams were scheduled to play twice more to close out the regular season in Valpo, but inclement weather prevented those games from taking place. The Crusaders have a four-game winning streak over the Panthers dating back to 2016. Chase Dawson (4-for-7) and Scott Kapers (6-for-12, 4 RBIs) both had success against Milwaukee last season. Dawson is hitting .391 in nine career games against the Panthers.
Going the Distance: Valpo starting pitcher Trey Ferketic hurled a 130-pitch complete game in the middle game of this past weekend’s series at Southern Illinois, limiting the Salukis to two runs on two walks and nine hits while striking out seven. Ferketic became the first Crusader to throw a complete game since April 23, 2017, when Ellis Foreman went the distance in a 9-0 win over Wright State.
Five-Hit Day: Blake Billinger racked up five hits in Valpo’s 6-2 win over Southern Illinois on Saturday. He became the second Valpo hitter to post a five-hit game this season, joining Chase Dawson, who went 5-for-6 against CSUN on March 2, a 14-13 loss. Valpo has two five-hit games this season after having one (Nolan Lodden, 2016) in the previous seven years combined. Furthermore, Billinger became the first Crusader since Justin Frane on April 3, 2010 against Chicago State to go 5-for-5 in a game.
More Billinger ‘Bits: With leading hitter Zack Leone sidelined by an injury, Blake Billinger stepped up in a big way in the three-game series at Southern Illinois. The Valpo left fielder boosted his season batting average to .374 by clubbing .769 (10-for-13) in the weekend series. He and Chase Dawson combined for all five of Valpo’s hits in Sunday’s series finale, three of which belonged to Billinger. The junior college transfer has a team-leading 14 multi-hit games and also leads the club with four three-hit contests. Billinger ranks second in The Valley in doubles with 13, behind only Dallas Baptist’s Jameson Hannah (14).
About the Pitching Matchup: A pair of lefties are expected to take the mound on Wednesday as Valpo’s Michael Mommersteeg pitches opposite Milwaukee’s Alex Fischer. Mommersteeg will make his second start of the season and first since March 4 at Grand Canyon. He worked 3 2/3 innings and allowed five runs on seven hits in his most recent outing on March 26 vs. Ball State. This will be his seventh appearance of the year. He has one save and an 11.94 ERA in 17 1/3 innings thus far. Fischer is 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA in seven games, one start. He has worked 10 2/3 innings. Fischer started against the Crusaders on May 13 of last season in Milwaukee, taking the loss after allowing three runs on five hits and three walks in two innings.
Triple Time: Valpo’s Chase Dawson notched his fourth triple of the season on Sunday at Southern Illinois. He took over sole possession of the MVC lead with four triples on the season. In the process, the Valpo junior became the first Crusader since Andy Burns in 2013 to have four triples in a single season.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Position Players
A Weekend To Remember: The Crusaders picked up several signature wins in the same day on Feb. 24 in Norman, Okla. Valpo upended host Oklahoma, a team ranked 28th nationally, 11-4 in the first game of the day, before routing Holy Cross 20-6. Both Oklahoma and Holy Cross reached the NCAA Tournament last season. The 20 runs in a game were Valpo’s most since April 2, 2010 (26 against Chicago State). The final game of the weekend in Norman saw the Crusaders take the Sooners to extra innings, but Oklahoma prevailed 3-2.
Ninth Inning Magic: On March 2 against CSUN – a neutral site game at GCU Ballpark in Phoenix – Valpo scored nine times in the top of the ninth to create a 13-13 tie. Chase Dawson capped the miraculous rally with a two-run homer, but CSUN walked off with a run in the bottom of the ninth for a 14-13 victory.
Walk-Off Winner: Valpo reversed the ghosts of years past on March 30 when Zack Leone crushed a three-run, walk-off home run, Valpo's first game-ending long ball in over 15 years. The swing that sent Valpo to a 5-2, 10 inning victory over Bradley for its first Missouri Valley Conference triumph also allowed the team to lay to rest the ghosts of the program's recent past. Three of the Crusaders’ first five losses this season came in walk-off fashion, while Valpo has been hurt by walk-off home runs in the past as well – most recently last year’s season opener at Western Kentucky and most notably a 2013 NCAA Tournament game against Indiana.
In The Other Dugout – Milwaukee: The Panthers stand at .500 in Horizon League play after winning series against Youngstown State and Northern Kentucky and dropping series to Wright State and Oakland. The Horizon League is back to six teams with each club playing the other five teams six times apiece with Valpo’s departure as IUPUI does not have baseball. Milwaukee lost 9-6 at then No. 24 Illinois on March 14, a team Valpo will see in midweek action next week. The Panthers are led by Mike Ferri, who is hitting .337 in 22 games. The team’s top RBI man is Tyler Bordner with 20. The head coach of the Panthers is Scott Doffek, who is in his 12th year at the helm and 24th on Milwaukee’s staff. The Panthers are the only Horizon League team on Valpo’s schedule, while Milwaukee will play another MVC squad in Illinois State later this season.
Head Coach Brian Schmack: Brian Schmack, the 17th head coach in Valparaiso University history, is in his fifth season at the helm of the Crusaders. He led Valparaiso to 25 wins in his inaugural campaign, a school record for victories by a first-year skipper. The former big leaguer followed that up with a 22-win season in 2015, then guided the team to its first winning record since 2013 in 2016. In 2017, Schmack continued his success despite guiding a youthful roster that featured 11 freshmen and 15 total newcomers. He led the Crusaders to 24 wins, including a strong finish to the regular season that saw them win eight of their last 11. Schmack, a member of the 2003 Detroit Tigers, served as pitching coach/associate head coach at Valpo for seven seasons prior to his promotion.
Looking Back: Valpo finished 2017 with a 24-29 record and a 13-15 mark in the Horizon League. Three Crusaders earned all-league freshman team honors, the first time Valpo had three players on the all-freshman team since 2013 and the seventh straight year the Crusaders had multiple players on the all-freshman squad. After posting a 4-1 record, 2.93 ERA and seven saves, right-handed pitcher Jon Tieman was named a Freshman All-American, becoming the first Crusader to earn that high honor since shortstop Spencer Mahoney in 2012. The 2017 season also saw the Crusaders set the program record for team fielding percentage, as they put together a .971 fielding percentage that bested the previous mark of .968, which had stood since 1998. The Valpo offense has enjoyed a significant statistical uptick over the last three seasons. The Crusaders held a combined average of .279, slugging percentage of .387 and on-base percentage of .372 from 2015-2017, all improvements from a .265/.351/.337 slash line from 2012-2014.
Preseason Poll: The Crusaders were picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll in their first season in The Valley. Dallas Baptist is the preseason favorite to win the league and is ranked 18th nationally by D1Baseball.com, 20th by the NCBWA and 17th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Missouri State, picked second in The Valley, is ranked 35th nationally by the NCBWA and received 35 votes in the USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll.